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The Prisoners Dilemma of Doping in Sports

In his paper, “The Doping Dilemma: Some Game theoretical and philosophical considerations”, Gunnar Breivik explores different applications of game theory to doping in sports and evaluates its cause and whether or not it is truly problematic.

One of the theories he uses for comparison is the Prisoner’s Dilemma. As we discussed in class the Prisoner’s Dilemma is described as: two criminals are separated in custody and told there is enough evidence to convict them but, if one confesses and the other does not the confessor will be released (4) and the other given a large sentence (1), if neither confesses they will both be given light sentences (3), and if both confess the will both get large sentences (2).



not confess               confess


not confess              (3,3)                        (1,4)


confess                     (4,1)                        (2,2)

 Key: 4 = best; 3 = next best, 2 = third best, 1 = worst. The first number represents A’s preference, the second B’s preference.

In the Prisoner’s Dilemma the dominant strategy, if the two prisoners cannot collaborate, is to always confess because confessing will always give you the better outcome. But, if the prisoners can collaborate the best outcome is if neither confesses.

As sports evolve and prices increase the cost of not winning also increases. Doping can provide an advantage but also presents new costs. If doping were to spread to all athletes everyone would be in the same situation they were in pre-doping so therefore an all no-doping situation more preferable than an all doping situation. The absolute worst situation for an athlete would be if all had access to doping but them. In this way doping can be represented by the Prisoners dilemma.

1 = being the only athlete that doesn’t dope

2 =  Everyone dopes

3 = No one dopes

4 = being the only athlete that does dope




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September 2018